Return to my Fiction pages
Go to my home page
Fiction. © Copyright 1999, Jim Loy
Ra, in his boat, had recently set in the West. But it was still light out. On the top of a house, in a village just north of Abydos, sat a teenage girl, named Nefer-Djehuti. The sun had set behind her, and she had watched the hills on the opposite bank turn bright red. They had now faded to gray. And the wide Nile was in shadows. the sky was a dark blue, with streaks of peach colored clouds.
She was an artist. She wanted to remember this scene and paint it. This would not be a typical Egyptian painting. Egyptian painters normally painted the same way every time. This painting would be different. More likely than not, no one would want to hang her painting. Well, her father would. She smiled.
Then she saw a long, thin boat, with a square sail. It was moving upstream. It looked like it was moving slowly, because it was far away from her. But she could tell that it was actually moving rapidly.
Then she saw another boat, behind the other. They moved silently, matching each others' speed, as if they were in a race. Then she saw that the trailing boat was gaining on the other boat. She saw that the trailing boat would certainly catch up with the leading boat, if they kept sailing past her village.
Then the leading boat veered toward her village. The sailor must have just then seen the small fishing fleet at anchor. The other boat veered as well.
Now she could see that someone in the trailing boat was shooting arrows at the leading boat. The man in the leading boat was sitting in the stern, steering and using a broad oar as a shield. She was watching a great drama, one that she would surely write about, in her capacity as scribe.
She heard shouting, as the leading boat struck the shore. The man from the boat ran into the village, and disappeared from her view, among the houses.
She saw the other boat come ashore. She saw a dozen or so men come ashore. They were soldiers, heavily armed with spears and shields. One man was tall and thin. He carried a bow, ready to shoot. And a sword hung from his belt. There was something strange about this man, something foreign. She watched him. The other soldiers spread throughout the village. The man with the bow stood on the bank of the river, apparently in thought. Then he disappeared behind a house.
The village was waking up to the drama. There were shouts and questions. Lights appeared in windows.
Then Nefer-Djehuti heard a sound, a click, as if a stone had been dropped onto another stone. The sound was from the corner of her roof. She looked in that direction, and saw a white object at the corner of the roof, next to a stairway up the outside of her house.
As she picked up the white object, she heard shouting on the street below. Someone shouted, "There he goes." She looked over the edge, and saw soldiers running by.
The white object was a cylinder, which seemed to be made of ivory. She guessed that it was a case which contained a papyrus scroll. It had a cap, which seemed loose, at one end. She pulled on it, and turned it, and pulled again, but the cap would not come off. She rushed downstairs, where her father had lit a lamp because of the commotion outside. Her father was gone. He must have gone to talk to the soldiers, as he was one of the important men of the village.
She studied the cylinder. It had carved lines, but no writing or pictures on it. The cap could be turned a certain amount before it stopped with a click. She could then not pull it off. But she could push it farther in. Then it could turn freely, in either direction. She turned it, and pulled and pushed. It was a puzzle. It was as if she were walking through a maze, a maze on a white cylinder. And then she had it open, and the papyrus fell out. She unrolled it. And it made no sense. It had Egyptian signs. But they made almost no words. And the few words that they did make made no sense.
She sat at a table, and pulled a blank sheet of papyrus out of a recess in the wall. She found her father's scribe palette, and inked the brush and copied the papyrus.
She returned the papyrus to its ivory case and began putting the cap back on, as she rushed up the interior stairs to the roof. She thought she remembered the path in the ivory maze, as she now traversed it backwards by turning the cap.
When she got to the roof, she saw a hand reaching over the top of the wall, feeling for the ivory cylinder. She placed the cylinder where the hand would find it. Then a face appeared over the wall, a very serious face. The dark eyes looked at her, and then down at the cylinder. The man picked up the cylinder and gently turned the cap for a moment. He apparently decided that it was just as he had left it, as he smiled and then disappeared down the stairs. She breathed again, not having been aware that she had been holding her breath.
As she descended the interior stairs, into her house, she heard voices below. There were three men: her father, an old soldier, and the thin archer. She was surprised to see that the archer was very young, a teenager. Her father and the old soldier glanced at her, as she entered the room. Her father said, "My daughter, Nefer-Djehuti." And they went back to their discussion. The young archer stared at her as if she were Isis herself. She suddenly felt self conscious about her imagined defects.
The old soldier said, "We captured him. But he got away. We will have to search every house. He is very dangerous. There may be more bloodshed. He killed the two men who were guarding him. I don't know how he did it."
The young archer spoke up, his voice soft and pleasant, "We don't know what he looks like. We will need help identifying villagers."
Nefer-Djehuti said, "I know what he looks like." And she told a shortened version of what she had seen. They took her around the village, from house to house. "No, not him," and "No, not him," over and over. They knocked on a door. Then they heard a woman scream. A soldier saw a man leap out of a window, and run toward the river. The chase was back on.
The mysterious, dangerous man made it to a boat, hoisted the sail, and sailed out into the river. Soldiers already manned two boats out on the river. And they maneuvered to cut off his escape. He seemed to be trying to sail around one of the boats, then he veered into that boat. There was a crunching collision. He leaped to the soldiers' boat. There was a blur of fighting. The other boat moved alongside to help. Then, there were no soldiers on board either boat. They were all overboard, as the mysterious man swung an oar at them. Then he sailed the undamaged boat upstream. Nefer-Djehuti watched him sail away for many minutes. The damaged boats slowly drifted downstream.
Nefer-Djehuti's father said, in shock, "The man is a god. The Destroyer walks the Two Lands."
The old soldier said, "I have only seen one other man like that. I saw the Good God Ramses himself win the great battle of Kadesh, single handed. This man reminds me of that." Then he added, as if coming out of a dream, "We almost had this Destroyer, a dozen times, tonight. And I've lost eight of my men. This man is no thief or soldier. He is an assassin. His target must be the Son of Ra himself, Ramses." Two of the General's men were soon rescued from the river. One had a broken nose and was mostly unconscious; the other had pulled him to safety onto one of the damaged boats.
The old soldier sent pigeons, with messages, north to Abydos and Waset, which the Greeks call Thebes, warning that the sailor was very dangerous and asking that he be arrested. The old soldier also recommended that the Lord of the Two Lands, Ramses, hide himself from this one man army. He knew that Ramses would do no such thing.
Since Nefer-Djehuti could identify the man, she was asked to accompany the soldiers south to Waset. The young archer, whose name was Horhotep, promised her father that he would protect her. Her father took her aside and said, "Draw pictures of the man, so that you will not be the only one who knows what he looks like. That may protect your life." And he let her go on the voyage.
The voyage took two days. Nefer-Djehuti and Horhotep talked while she tried to decipher the papyrus that she had copied. She learned that he was the son of the old soldier. He had spent most of his young life in foreign countries, leaning the art of war from the great warriors of many lands. She guessed that was why he seemed strange. He had a foreign way about him. And he had chosen a life of hardship, when he could have lived a life of ease. And she liked his obvious honesty.
As she deciphered, she lectured to Horhotep. "There are only eighteen different signs here. so, I would guess that only the signs which show sounds are used. Some sounds are rare, so they do not show up in this small document. The document is not readable, even then. So I would guess that none of these signs represents its normal sound."
"So it cannot be solved?" Horhotep interrupted.
She smiled. "I think it can. This sign occurs very often. It may be an 's'." She went on, "This may be an 'a'." After much time, and effort, and backtracking, she read, "Meet northeast corner Hatshepsut temple 10th night of month." Then she drew many pictures of the Assassin, as they now called him. They did not want to think of him as a god.
Nefer-Djehuti and Horhotep always seemed to be holding hands, and looking into each others' eyes.
Horhotep introduced Nefer-Djehuti to the Good God Ramses. Nefer-Djehuti was too frightened to speak. Ramses, a middle-aged man, seemed amused at her fear. Horhotep told the king that she had agreed to marry him. Ramses was delighted, and said, "We will have your wedding right here in my palace."
The next day was the tenth day of the month. That night, fifteen soldiers hid around the northeast corner of Hatshepsut's temple. Horhotep and Nefer-Djehuti hid behind a rock, some distance away. The soldiers all blended into the rocks of the cliffs.
They saw a man approach, carrying a lantern. He was whistling a tune. He walked directly to the northeast corner of the huge building. He waited there, looking around and whistling. Then he fell dead, with an arrow stuck in him.
Soldiers rushed about looking for the Assassin. Horhotep whispered, "Stay here." And he rushed to the scene of the excitement."
Nefer-Djehuti saw a shadow creep from rock to rock. She quietly followed. Then the shadow disappeared. She stood motionless, looking this way and that. And she listened. Then she had a feeling of dread, a feeling that she was about to die. She imagined a dozen arrows flying through the air toward her. She rushed away, toward the temple, and safety.
The dead man was a nobleman from Waset. He apparently was also a traitor, in league with the Assassin. Horhotep guessed that he had been killed because he knew too much. The Assassin had probably seen the soldiers, and decided to shut up his accomplice.
Horhotep and Nefer-Djehuti reported to the Good God. Horhotep said, "Highness, we no longer have any clue where he might be. This palace is not a fortress. The Assassin can probably come and go as he pleases. You must hide."
But Ramses had a plan. He said, "We do know where he will be. He will eventually be in the same room that I am in. I think that this Assassin will find me if I hide. It is time for me to again meet my destiny."
There were protests from the assembled advisors.
Ramses motioned to Horhotep and Nefer-Djehuti, "Come with me, I must pray."
Ramses was kneeling before an alter when they heard a sound. But there was no one there. Ramses said, "Come in. They tell me that you are a god."
The Assassin stepped out of a shadow, "They tell me that you are a god, too." He looked around and saw Horhotep and Nefer-Djehuti and a very old lion, which was lying on the floor at Ramses' feet. The Assassin held up a drawing of himself. He nodded to Nefer-Djehuti, "You're work, I presume. I assumed that you were an empty-headed girl." He looked at Horhotep and the old lion. He was sizing up his chances. He said to Ramses, "I can kill you before your lion moves a muscle."
Ramses replied, "Yes, he is rather slow, these days. I'm afraid that I must rely on my father, Ra, for protection, today."
Just then, the lion, who suffered from a toothache, let out a thunderous roar, which frightened everyone in the room, except Ramses. The Assassin, stepping back a step, did not see Horhotep grab his bow and arrow. Before the Assassin could attack, an arrow went through his chest. As a reflex, he threw a knife. The knife glanced off Ramses' hand, which he lifted to protect himself, and stuck into his shoulder.
The King bled all over the marble floor. But, he lived another fifty years.
Nefer-Djehuti and Horhotep were eventually married in the palace at Waset. One of Ramses' gifts to the young couple was an ivory cylinder, which had been found in the bottom of a boat, which was anchored at Waset.
Note: these are the stories of Nefer-Djehuti, so far:
Return to my Fiction pages
Go to my home page